I think I’ve gotten bread down. The recipe (basically half of the recipe from Brown-Eyed Baker):
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1/4 cup water
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl butter, room temp
1 tsp salt
3 – 3 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup + 3 Tbl water
Combine the first four ingredients in the mixing bowl. Let sit for a few minutes for the yeast to come to life. Engage the mixer at medium-low. Add the last three ingredients – starting with only 3 cups of flour. After it is thoroughly combined, add the last half cup of flour as needed for the dough to pull completely off the sides – and bottom! – of the mixing bowl. Increase mixer speed to medium and knead for eight minutes.
Let rise in a clean (i.e. not the mixing bowl, unless you stop and wash it), greased, and covered bowl for 1 hour. Turn out on a light greased surface. Flatten it into a rectangle about twice as wide as bread pan and two-thirds as tall. Fold the edges toward the middle in thirds; press well to avoid air bubbles between the folds. The result should be the size of the bread pan. The bottom, which will become the top in the pan, should be smooth and pulled tight. Flip the dough into the bread pan, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425. Place (about) a half-cup of ice in the oven. Add the bread. Bake for 20 minutes. There are tricks:
- Use full-hot tap water. By the time it warms up the measuring cup and the mixing bowl, it will be cool enough not to kill the yeast.
- Don’t add the salt before the flour. It will start killing the yeast without more water and flour to buffer it.
- Don’t forget to add the salt. The bread will taste like dried paste if you do.
- Don’t skimp on kneading time – gluten is your friend. I usually set the timer for nine minutes while I’m waiting for the “thoroughly combined” point to occur.
- After putting the dough in the greased bowl, slide it around a bit and flip it over so all sides are greased.
- Spraying grease on the countertop is a bit strange, but it works better than “lightly floured”.
- Make sure to squish it well after folding or there will be giant air bubbles. Doing this without harming the “smooth and tight” characteristics of the at-this-point bottom is tricky.
- The smoother and tighter the top (after flipping it into the pan) of the loaf is, the less chance the top will collapse while baking.
- If using ice cubes, put them in something (e.g. a small, oven-safe pan) so they don’t skitter about the oven. I use whiskey ice balls, which tend to have a flattened top (due to sublimation in the frost-free freezer), and just set one on the bottom of the oven.
- Don’t rise it near the oven vent. For some reason, the preheating exhaust heat causes an unstable burst of rising that will collapse during baking.